This month marks 6 months since lockdown began. I can barely remember a time when I could hug a friend, pop to the shops without thinking about it or hang around at the school gates chatting to the other parents.
Whilst we seem to be hurtling into a worrying new phase of this pandemic, I wanted to take a moment to pause and reflect – sharing some of the huge and scary challenges we’ve faced as a small business. But more importantly to share how we’ve been able to quickly adapt and help with the wider response to COVID-19 in the areas where we live; and how we’ve refocussed our vision and mission, as well as evolved our operating model to be able to not only survive but thrive – and support even more women across the world to be healthy and happy.
Life as we knew it, changed overnight
Life as we knew it at TMR, abruptly stopped in March; with lockdown imminent, we had no option but to pause the much loved, 600+ social runs we held around the UK supporting up to 10,000 women every month, and to close the online store we have operated since 2016.
I gotta tell you, it was pretty gutting turning off the twice weekly runs which we’d worked hard to create and scale and knew were an important part of so many women’s lives; pretty scary closing the doors to our store as our only source of revenue; and really hard placing the entire team on furlough (a word I had never even heard 6 months ago).
In some ways, though, these were all the easiest of decisions. Because it goes without saying that the safety of our team, their families, our community, our volunteers and our suppliers come above everything else.
Working Mums bore the brunt of lockdown
Research over the past few months has shown that it is working mothers in particular who have borne the brunt of lockdown – after centuries of structural social convention ensured the tasks of childcare and homeschooling were always more likely to fall on our shoulders. And so taking the pressure off my team of Mums, was high on my list of priorities.
One of the things I am most proud of over the past 6 months is that our brilliant team were kept safe, they were able to prioritise their kids and homeschooling, and that recently ALL of them have returned to work with a job that is as secure as it can be in a pandemic.
Having an authentic purpose is everything in a crisis
In a strange sort of way, I saw closing down large parts of our operation as a huge opportunity. It meant that I;
- could spend time reframing our organisation’s vision and mission, prioritising activities that delivered real social impact during the crisis;
- could focus ALL of my limited time and energy on supporting our community, many of whom were really struggling – developing initiatives that would help them to be active, keep connected, and stay mentally well;
- could throw loads of energy behind the launch of our Run30 App – a virtual coaching programme we had created to be able to support more woman around the world to be active, and now this was needed more than ever.
On a personal level, narrowing our focus meant that I could better juggle work alongside home schooling my own kids, even if work was done at strange hours of the day and night.
I was happier despite the many pressures and anxieties – I was able to work less, focus more on work that fed my soul and spend more time with my children. Lessons I plan very much to hold onto tightly in the future.
Social entrepreneurs and innovators are critical to the response to and recovery from the COVID-19 crisis (World Economic Forum)
I felt this viscerally from my own experience – as we demonstrated our ability to adapt, pivot and respond to the needs of our community (quickly developing a programme of virtual classes, events and challenges), as well as to the needs of the most vulnerable in our wider community. We were agile and entrepreneurial enough to be able to create innovative solutions to problems affecting the most vulnerable way before larger (and slow moving) organisations maybe even realised there was a problem.
The engine behind this vital work was powered by our incredible volunteers. Behind the scenes they just stepped up – unquestioning in their support; organising challenges to help their local communities stay connected and providing a relentless, never ending stream of support online for anyone who needed it, day or night.
It was through this team of volunteers that we were able in the very early days of lockdown to provide support to the efforts of CoVid Mutual Aid communities, and respond quickly to an urgent requirement to support community pharmacies with the delivery of medicines to their most vulnerable of patients isolated at home.
Within 48 hours of an initial discussion about the challenge pharmacies were facing, we had created an army of 500 volunteers, built a system and database for volunteers to register and sign up for delivery slots and agreed a simple process with pharmacy partners. Dubbed the “Mother Runners turned Drug Runners” we soon attracted notoriety, with media interest across the globe. I was soon juggling interviews with the press in all time zones – from Brazil, to Singapore to France and I was thrilled to be able to shine a light on the work our team were doing (and still are, every day, to this day).
Importantly this initiative added value to the lives of the women in our community too – yes they found it rewarding helping out, but it also gave many women who were struggling to make time for physical activity themselves, a reason to exercise on a daily basis.
On a mission to empower 1 million women to feel great about themselves by moving more
The work we’ve been delivering over the past 4 years, that gathered pace into lockdown, recently caught the eye of Sport England – an organisation that exists to help people and communities across the country get a sporting habit for life. Their research had shown that women had been especially impacted when it came to regular activity, with 32% of women saying they “couldn’t prioritise exercise during lockdown as they had too much to do for others”.
So the work we are doing to build engaged digital communities of women that ultimately aim to give women access to free runs in their local area was something they wanted to get behind.
In June, midway through lockdown, we secured £150k of funding from Sport England and The National Lottery. This funding is crucial for us to continue the work we are doing to support 60 communities across 17 cities, as well as rapidly accelerating the expansion of our digital communities across the country. We’re also working hard to re-open runs in a CoVid safe way and I’ll be sharing more on this soon.
Suffice to say I am thrilled at the opportunity to move a giant step forward towards our mission of empowering 1 million women to feel great about themselves by moving more.
A pivot is a change in strategy without a change in vision
And what of the TMR ecommerce store? Well far from accepting we will be unable to trade until who knows when, we have pivoted our business model to one that we hope will be more sustainable (for us and the planet) for the long term. The first step saw us close down the TMR warehouse, pack up our stock and move everything to a specialist fulfilment partner. With their help, we started shipping again in August – and are already busy spreading the TMR message again through our eye catching slogan sweats and tees across the world.
Even more exciting is that now we no longer have to worry about shipping parcels ourselves, we are investing the time in finding ways to make our store and products more sustainable, and are busy working on new designs that we hope to be able to launch very soon.
If your path is difficult, it’s because your purpose is bigger than you thought.
It’s hard to sum up what’s next for TMR without falling into cliches, so please indulge me for a second.
I have come to believe that the hardest of times can lead to the best moments of your life. And the past 6 months even despite the many challenges, have given me moments that I will be proud of for the rest of my life. With an exciting new mission, I know the road ahead will be hard, but I am excited to see where it takes us.
As Mohammed Ali once said “the ultimate measure of a man” [it goes without saying that we can add ‘or a woman’ here], “is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge”.
I reckon the past 6 months have shown the world what This Mum Runs is really made of.
So bring on the next 6 months; we are standing stronger and more focussed than ever before; we are ready and waiting for whatever you might throw at us.